Entering this season, J.J. Hardy was the last off-season acquisition who I thought would impress, thrill and benefit the Orioles lineup, but he really has compiled staggering statistics. Without Hardy, I’m not even sure the Birds would have more than 38 wins on the year, and that’s saying something because they have only 44 wins up to this point.
Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, third baseman Mark Reynolds and RHP Justin Duchschererwere among the other proven names who I thought would complement the Birds’ roster this season, but none of them (Duchscherer did not even appear in a regular season game) have been more valuable than Hardy at shortstop.
I was expecting Guerrero to smash around 25 homeruns at least and hit about .300 while driving in around 80 RBIs. Reynolds has crushed 26 homeruns on the year, and he’s on pace for about what I thought, but Hardy’s come up with many game-saving, or game-changing hits.
Hardy has smashed six homeruns and driven in 19 RBIs in the 7th inning or later this year and in late-inning pressure, Hardy is batting .298 with 14 hits, one of those being a homerun, and eight RBIs in 47 at-bats on the year.
For me, Hardy has been the Orioles most surprising and beneficial off-season acquisition, not only because he’s put together his best season of his career up to this point, but because he’s soared above my, as I’m sure other Orioles’ fans, expectations.
Hardy crushed his 20th homerun on Monday and his 21st homerun on Wednesday night, a feat that had not been matched by a Birds’ shortstop since 2006 when former MVP Miguel Tejada smashed 24 homeruns and drove in 100 RBIs.
On the season, Hardy is batting .275 with 21 homeruns and 54 RBIs in just 335 at-bats; Hardy has been a homerun machine this year as he hits a homerun every 16 at-bats (which is equivalent to about a homerun every four or five games).
There are 48 games left on the year, and if he plays for the remainder of the season without an injury, he should be able to compile around 180 more at-bats at least. If he continues on this pace, Hardy will record 11 more homeruns, which would be the most since 2004 when Tejada smashed 34 bombs.
Not only is he on pace to smash more than 30 homeruns, but he’s also on pace to drive in about 80 runs, which again has not been done by an Orioles shortstop since the days of Tejada in Baltimore.
Coming into the season, I was expecting Hardy to hit between 20 and 25 homeruns (at the most) and drive in around 60 to 70 runners while hitting in the .280s or so. Although Hardy’s average has dropped a bit from his season-high of .311 on June 25th, he’ll finish the year around the .280 mark, unless he slumps throughout the rest of the season.
Before this year, Hardy had only hit more than 20 homeruns two times in his six-year major league career (both with Milwaukee in 2007 and 2008, and he never hit more than 26 in a season. As for RBIs, his career-high is 80, which came in his best season (2007) and he drove in 74 in the next season.
Over an average 162-game season for Hardy, Baseball Statistics predicts that he would hit 22 homeruns and drive in 76 RBIs while batting .263, and that’s over 162 games! Hardy missed about a month of the season from early April to the 10th of May. Just think of the numbers Hardy would be able to bolster over an entire season with the Birds.
Although Hardy’s on-base percentage is lower than in previous seasons (.321), which is something he could afford to improve upon next year, his slugging and OPS (.519 and .840 respectively) are career-highs as well.
Hardy leads all of American League shortstops with his 21 homeruns, two more than Cleveland’s hot-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera, who has played in 29 more games than Hardy this season. Cabrera leads all American League shortstops with 66 RBIs, only 12 more than Hardy in 119 more at-bats.
Colorado’s shortstop Troy Tulowitzkileads all major league shortstops with 23 homeruns and 81 RBIs, but again, he’s appeared in 113 games on the season and only has two more homeruns than Hardy. Not to mention, he plays in the thin-aired Mile High Stadium, conveniently named for the baseball’s lighter flight of course.
Besides the Rockies’, Indians’ and Orioles’ shortstops, the next highest team number of homeruns by a shortstop is 16 by the Tigers and then it drops to 13 by the Phillies. It’s obvious Hardy is having a breakout season and he’s been the biggest surprise on the team.
Before joining the Birds this year, Hardy’s previous high in slugging percentage is .478 in 2008 and his career-high OPS of .821 occurred in the same year. Although his OPS is not that much higher this year, there’s still plenty of season left and he’s warming up again as the dog days of August are upon us.
Not only are Hardy’s offensive numbers impressive this year, his defensive statistics are the highest of his career as well. Over his 84 games, he’s committed only five errors, which equates to a .989 fielding percentage. His previous high dates back to 2009 with Milwaukee when he committed eight miscues in 112 games (.983 fielding percentage).
Hardy is ranked number one in the American League with his .989 fielding percentage and he sits at number three in the majors behind Tulowitzki (.993) and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins (.990). Tulowitzki has only committed four miscues all season long and Rollins is tied with Hardy at five errors.
On July 18th, Hardy signed a three-year, 22.5 million dollar extension through 2014 with the Birds, which should be just enough time for Orioles top prospect Manny Machado to develop and gain valuable experience throughout the minors.
(Stats calculated after Wednesday night’s game vs. the White Sox)
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